One of the questions I get asked the most is how and when to start a young child skiing. The answer requires some parental intuition. Does your child enjoy playing outside in the snow? How do your child respond to people he or she doesn’t know? At Whiteface, where I teach, children must be four years old to participate in a group lesson environment like our Play and Ski program. Younger kids learn best one-on-one.
The choice between using a ski instructor for private lessons and teaching your child yourself depends on several factors. How comfortable are you skiing in a wedge with your child? Children learn by watching. Young kids may not be comfortable with anyone other than a parent, so that may limit your options. Trying to teach a young child to ski while snowboarding simply doesn’t work. Be honest with yourself about your patience, temperament, and experience to pull it off.
A “noodle” to connect the ski tips and keep the skis in a wedge is a great tool. Teach the wedge by pushing the heels out into the “pizza” shape. I highly recommend the Racer Chaser harness. The harness should fit snugly. It has D hooks on the hips that connect to the reigns. With the child in the wedge, pull very lightly on one reign as you steer the child in that direction. Note in the photo that the rein on the other side is slack. Then encourage the child to steer or point his or her feet in the desired direction.
The harness is only for gentle green slopes. If you’re applying tension on the reins to control your child’s speed, then the slope is too steep. The key is skiing a lot of comfortable terrain before taking the harness off and then more before moving to stepper green terrain. You want your child balanced, not leaning back. Never ski with a child between your legs; it’s dangerous and encourages leaning back — a habit that will be very difficult to unlearn. Consider bringing in a professional ski instruction for private lessons to take it to the next level, beyond the harness.
The younger the child, the shorter the skiing experience should be. A 3-year-old may only ski for 40 minutes, followed by some hot chocolate. Select days with nice weather, so that it’s fun to be outside. The key is to keep it fun and shut it down when the smiles stop.